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and other stories
Author: William H. G. Kingston
Release Date: May 15, 2007 [EBook #21460]
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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE FERRYMAN OF BRILL ***
The Protestant Lovers\u2014A Rival\ue000Diedrich finds his Footsteps dogged\ue001Finds a friend in the Ferryman\ue002Threatened with the Inquisition\ue003Flies to sea.
Not far from the broad and slow-flowing river Meuse stands the town of Brill. Flanders, in which it is found, formed at the period to which we refer a province of the dominions belonging to Philip of Spain. It was ruled with no very paternal hand by the Duke of Alva, who resided chiefly at Brussels. He had been employed for several years in burning, hanging, drowning, and cutting off the heads of his loving subjects, and torturing
them in a variety of ways, in order to make them dutiful children of the Church of Rome, and of his master,
Philip. Not with great success, for they still hated, with an unalterable deadly hatred, both one and the other.
Brill at that time was not a populous city, nor did it possess much commercial importance; but it was well
walled and fortified, however, and had a most commodious port. The inhabitants were peaceable,
well-disposed people, who thought as much of themselves as the citizens of other cities of similar importance
are apt to do. Among them was a young merchant\ue003Diedrich Meghem. He had made several voyages of
adventure, and was well accustomed to a seafaring life. Now prosperous, and hoping to become wealthy, he
was about to settle down as a steady citizen on shore, with the expectation of some day, perhaps, becoming
burgomaster of his native city. Diedrich, as young men are apt to do, looked about for a wife to share his good
fortune, and had fixed his affections on Gretchen Hopper, a fair and very lovely girl, the daughter of a
flourishing merchant. Hopper was supposed to be the possessor of considerable wealth\ue004a dangerous
distinction in those days. Duke Alva heard of the merchant Hopper\u2019s reputed wealth, and had made a note to
take an early opportunity of relieving him of a portion if not the whole of it. Hopper was known to hold the
reformed principles, and though he was careful not to intrude his opinions in public, the duke\ue005s advisers
suggested that there would be no difficulty in bringing up an accusation of heresy against him. Diedrich was
an ardent Protestant. His eye had long been fixed on William of Orange as the person best able to lift his
country out of the present depressed condition in which she groaned.
Gretchen was a quiet, gentle girl, and she also held to the opinions of her father and her lover, in spite of her
gentleness, with a determination in no way inferior to theirs. Gretchen soon found out that the honest,
generous-hearted Diedrich loved her, and not long after this discovery she acknowledged to him that he
possessed her entire heart. She had, however, other admirers, from whom she might have chosen a husband of
a nobler family and of greater wealth than Diedrich. Among other pretenders to her hand was Caspar Gaill, a
Fleming of good family, who, however, held to the Romish faith and supported the government of Alva. The
merchant Hopper had a great regard for Diedrich, and was well pleased to find that he wished to become his
daughter\ue006s husband. He at once accepted him as a son-in-law, and gave the young couple his blessing.
\u201cThe times are not propitious for marriage, however,\u201d he observed. \ue007Matters may mend; they can scarcely
grow worse. Gretchen is young, and can wait a little. You must have patience, then, my good friend
Gretchen and her lover passed many pleasant evenings together, though it was considered prudent not to make
their intended marriage public. One, however, had watched Diedrich\ue009s constant visits to the house, and his
heart burned with jealousy.
One evening Diedrich was returning to his home, when, looking over his shoulder on hearing footsteps, he
discovered that he was followed. When he walked faster, the stranger proceeded also at the same rate; when
he stopped, the stranger stopped; when he went at a slow pace, the stranger slackened his speed. At length,
passing a shrine at the corner of a street, before which a bright lamp was kept burning, Diedrich turned
sharply round, and found himself standing face to face with the person who had been following him.
The young men parted, but from that day forward Diedrich was aware that his footsteps were constantly
followed when he went abroad, especially on the Sabbath, when he was accustomed to attend the meetings of
the Protestants held in the city. Still he was too proud and too fearless to alter his mode of proceeding on this
account. At night often he saw in the distance a dim figure following him, but which, when he turned round,
On one occasion he resolved to pursue the spy, and punish him severely if he could overtake him. Scarcely
had he left his home when he observed a figure as usual like a distant shadow coming after him. He walked on
for some way, as if indifferent to the circumstance, by gentle degrees slackening his pace, till, as he supposed,
his pursuer had approached nearer than usual. He then suddenly turned round, and, darting forward, was close
up to the man before the latter made any attempt to escape.
\ue01aWhat, Peter Kopplestock, are you my secret pursuer?” he asked, in a tone of surprise.
“It may be so, but I may be your guardian angel,” answered the person thus addressed, in a low
“That’s the very place it will not be wise for me to go to,” said Peter; “if I go there I shall be observed. Do you come to my house. You will find a porch a little to the right of it. Slip in there and remain quiet for a few minutes. Should you be followed at the time, your pursuer will pass by and lose sight of you. Come in an hour hence. It will be dangerous to put off the visit till to-morrow.”
Diedrich followed the advice of his friend. He had known Peter Kopplestock from his earliest days. Peter was
of no very exalted rank, but he had numerous friends who, not without reason, put confidence in him. His
chief occupation was that of a ferryman plying across the river Meuse. He also visited the ships which
appeared at the mouth of the river when unable for want of wind to come up to the town, and took provisions
off to them, and brought messages on shore. Peter Kopplestock took an especial interest in Diedrich; Diedrich
had always been his generous employer, and was now going to marry his niece.
The wealthy merchant Hopper had once been a humble clerk, and he then had married the very beautiful sister of Peter the ferryman. She had died, and her young daughter had been educated as well as any young lady in the land. Diedrich was well aware of the relationship, and it increased the confidence he felt in Peter, who was also of his own way of thinking—indeed, a more thorough Protestant could not have been found.
Diedrich found his way, at the hour appointed, to Peter Kopplestock’s cottage down by the river-side. He saw, when leaving his own house, the usual figure following him, but he hoped, by hiding himself as Peter had advised him to do, to escape from his pursuer. The cottage door was ajar. He pushed it open and entered. Peter welcomed him cordially.
“I have sad news for you, my friend,” said the ferryman. “You have been denounced to the Inquisition as a heretic, and your enemies have resolved to take your life. Among them you may reckon Caspar Gaill. He thinks that by getting rid of you he may win the hand of my fair niece.”
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